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Saturday 11 June 2016

The OSR: Bigger on the Inside

Ok, so, to sum up some of the events of recent blog entries from a more positive perspective.

It might seem weird to some people that of all the various schools of RPG design of recent years, by far the most creative and (in recent years) the most acclaimed has been the OSR.  Acclaimed enough that the designers of the latest edition of D&D wanted to consult with people involved in its cutting edge.   After all, not only did the OSR start out as a kind of backward-gazing movement, which showed all the (lack of) promise of being pretty much an insular and reactionary concept movement, but it starts out with the apparent "limitations" of having a lot of boundaries you cannot cross and still be Old-School.

But that latter detail is exactly the secret of its success.

The OSR is like the TARDIS: bigger on the inside. There's infinite space inside the box.

You can have a creative process where you say "anything goes", and some unusual things might be produced due to that process. But just as likely, you'll get a bunch of stuff that doesn't turn out to be worth much.  Likewise, if you create structure that isn't founded on what worked before, you are likely to create entire movements that are hopelessly flawed from the start (like the Forge's GNS theory). 

The OSR is a box; it has a set of limits. To design an OSR game, you have to play within the rules of what fits old-school concepts. On the one hand, this obliges you to have as your foundation the most tried and true set of design concepts in the entire hobby. On the other hand, it challenges you to have to come up with something more creative than you might have if there were no design rules; creative in terms of producing something that is new and innovative and yet completely recognizable as fitting with the design principle.

We've already seen a lot of incredible books: spectacular rules sets, spectacular adventures and spectacular setting material.  Almost all of it is fundamentally compatible with almost everything else in the movement. You can pick any rules set from the OSR, pick any setting book (even if its default is geared to a different rule set), and pick any adventure (even one from a rules-set different than the previous two books) and run them all together in your game. More than that, you can pick and choose stuff from five other books: a random table here, equipment there, a sub-mechanic from somewhere else, and use all of it. 

And I'm fairly sure that we haven't seen nothing yet. In the last two years or so the ante has kept being raised by one publisher after another, and one designer after another, daring or inspiring each other to do more creative things.  

By working within that bigger-on-the-inside box, we work with a set of principles that keep the whole movement connected, but we also have an incredibly vast space to do stuff different than anything we did before.

That, to me, is the real value of the OSR.  That's what makes the OSR great, and what I hope more people will be looking at in the OSR.  While I love what a lot of guys have done so far, and look forward to seeing what they'll make next, what I'm most interested in seeing is who else will come along and make something new that is part of the OSR and yet totally different to what I've done with it or the other designers have done with it up till now.


Currently Smoking: Dunhill Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best


  1. Replies
    1. I been saying something similar for a long time. I like your version as well because it explicitly points various items that my version doesn't.

      To me the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It is about going back to the roots of our hobby and seeing what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the time.

  2. I think both the fans of Fate and the Powered by the Apocalypse games would argue your assertion "of all the various schools of RPG design of recent years, by far the most creative and (in recent years) the most acclaimed has been the OSR".

    You might dismiss such arguments as I think you have said that you don't consider their games to be RPGs, at least I remember you saying such about Dungeon World.

    I personally think "most creative" is so subjective a claim as to be not defendable.

    To me, the OSR has been a vibrant and creative design and play community, but so have several other communities out in the wider dispora of table top RPGers.

    1. Sorry, meant "diaspora" not "dispora"

    2. FATE is a real RPG, and there has been some creativity there, but not nearly as much, with as nearly as broad a range and scope, as what you see in the OSR.

      Apocalypse World is not an RPG. But again, also not nearly as diverse.

      The range from stuff like Narcosa to Hulks & Horrors to Red Tide to Arrows of Indra to Blue Medusa to Golden Scroll to Barrowmaze to Dark Albion to Other Dust to DCC to Fuck for Satan, etc etc etc, that huge range of extremely different products, styles, and creative directions, is unparalleled by any other creative movement in RPGs.

  3. What I'd like some people to finally understand is that OSR is not only dungeon adventures where characters are pawns to test players' wits and luck. Sometimes when I say I am OSR guy few think that I play third party 70s D&D in Temple Of Elemental Evil. No. OSR can be challenges but also drama. Combat or politics. The rules are (usually) so minimal (focusing most on combat) that you can do almost anything with the game(s). What I've seen most amazing material is released under OSR label. OSR is a common language familiar for many gamers but with modern, and even alien (in a good way) dialect!

    I was interested in FATE but it lacks the imagination OSR has developed. And well, rolling d20 - cannot be easier and more fun for me.

    Great article mr. Bundit.

    1. If you want people to get that, just point them to Dark Albion!